It was probably not the coming-out party syndicators were hoping for. At last week's Synditel sneak peek at upcoming syndicated series for TV critics, several of the featured strips were given the third degree.
It got nasty. Why watch King World's The Ananda Lewis Show? Critics pointed out viewers already have Oprah, that other King World talk series featuring an African-American female host. Who has time for Warner Bros.' ElimiDate or Universal's The 5th Wheel? Especially since Warner Bros.' Change of Heart and Universal's Blind Date already occupy the dating-show genre.
Critics may be, well, critical, but their skepticism can be legit, considering last season, several high-profile syndicated shows failed, including Dick Wolf's Arrest & Trial, Dr. Laura and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Television Critics Association members were also remembering last year's TCA syndication event in Pasadena when anticipated big-name attendees like Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Cindy Margolis were no-shows.
So this was no love fest. For example, when Ananda Lewis told critics she wanted a talk show "that can educate people," a scribe shot back, "Why then surround yourself with the two of them?" referring to ex-Sally Jessy Raphael veterans Mary Duffy and Jose Pretlow, who are executive producers of the new Lewis show.
Duffy defended herself, noting Sally won an Emmy in 1989 for best talk strip. Later, a King World spokesman said he wasn't rattled by the interrogation. "A critic's disposition is to say, `Prove it.' They've seen a lot of talk shows come and go."
Panelists who were part of the dating show sessions also fended off questions about why they deserve to survive, following one critic's comment that "there's an awful lot of shows out here like this." The bunch also includes Fox's upcoming Love Cruise and Paramount's fall 2001 strip Rendez-View.
Likewise, the relationship pack didn't back down from such tough inquiries as "Isn't ElimiDate just Chains of Love without the chains?"
According to USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco, there was a sense that some of the critics weren't buying their spiels. "Nothing that I heard or saw compelled me to pay attention," he said.
Tom Jicha, television critic for the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel complained "there was no star power" presented to critics, which is reminiscent of Synditel 2000's complaints. "There was no one that my readers would be interested in." - Susanne Ault